Our #2 story of the year was the court-martial of Major Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. We ended last year with CAAF granting a petition for extraordinary relief and removing the military judge and ordering a new one be assigned. Col Tara Osburn, USA, was then assigned. Major Hasan’s court-martial was last year’s number two story of 2012.
For all the tragedy of the victims and court-room drama leading up to the trial, the trial itself was relatively uneventful. The defense rested without putting on any evidence. Major Hasan acknowledged he was the shooter at the beginning of the trial. He was convicted of 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted murder. He was sentenced to death after less than two hours of deliberations.
The trial was most notable for Major Hasan’s decision to represent himself. After firing his lawyers, the MJ granted his request to represent himself. His counsel, who continued to be available to assist him, described his actions as a “working towards the death penalty” according to the Washington Post.
I once did extensive research, attempting to look at all Article 118(1) & 118(4) cases preferred since 1984 to identify predictors of convening authorities’ decisions to refer cases capitally and on members awarding death as a punishment. We started with the thought that perhaps there were racial trends we could identify. What we found was the unsurprising conclusion that the number one predictor of capital referrals and capital sentences in Article 118(1) cases was multiple victims. That certainly held true in Major Hasan’s case.
Of course, Major Hasan will receive automatic review from the Army Court of Criminal Appeals. As this CNN report points out, the reversal rate for death-penalty cases in the military on direct review is very high. This report cites a 82% reversal. These numbers are since 1984, when President Reagan implemented R.C.M. 1004.
One issue that lurks in the case highlights some of the paternalism that still lingers in the military-justice system. Major Hasan attempted to plead guilty, but his plea was rejected by the MJ. Article 45(b), UCMJ prohibits a guilty plea to a capital offense. In theory, this denied Major Hasan the mitigating effects of a guilty plea. Is it remotely conceivable that ACCA or CAAF will rule Article 45(b), UCMJ unconstitutional and reverse? Probably not, but if they did, it would probably make our top ten list in future years.